Gambling on snowfall in the Arrowhead

  • Article by: KERRI WESTENBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2012 - 12:33 PM

Call me an optimist. I just booked a mid-February stay in Grand Marais, Minn., and I plan to cross-country ski along the Gunflint Trail while I'm there.

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Ice covers the bay in Grand Marais during the winter, which is a good time to visit this gateway to outdoor adventures.

Photo: KERRI WESTENBERG, Star Tribune file

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Call me an optimist. I just booked a mid-February stay in Grand Marais, Minn., and I plan to cross-country ski along the Gunflint Trail while I'm there.

That may seem like a gamble this year, but reports at www.skinnyski.com have buoyed me. The base may not be deep, but conditions are good at trails near Grand Marais and in the central Gunflint Trail area, according to skiers who have been on them. The lack of posts for the upper Gunflint Trail leaves me nervous: Could it be that no one is writing because no one is skiing?

Still, if there is a place to experience the beauty of white woodlands, Minnesota's Arrowhead should be it. The region gets an average of 100 inches of snow each winter.

This year, though, is far from the norm.

Snow depths across the Arrowhead are in the 5 percent range, "meaning that over 100 years of records, 95 percent of the time there's been more snow," said Ken Clark, meteorologist with Accuweather.com.

Such dismal snowfall led to the cancellation of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon; 2007 was the only other year in its nearly 30-year history that the race was called for lack of snow, according to Geoff Vukelich, president of the Beargrease board. Granted, the race begins in Duluth, where Vukelich recently tooled around in a T-shirt.

Duluth cross-country ski trails are hit or miss; farther north, in the Tofte, Grand Marais and Gunflint areas, they're open, Vukelich said. "Living in northern Minnesota, I know it can change overnight."

More snow would be a nice start. But if it doesn't come, there's always the sleigh ride featured in our cover story this week.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.

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